The Recorder – From aversion to passionate hobby: Greenfield woman creates botanic garden at home

The pandemic shutdowns have inspired some people to bake bread, weave rugs, or learn Arabic, but you wouldn’t necessarily know what they’ve been up to by occasionally observing their homes. In the case of Andrea Lok, however, her yard underwent major transformations as she did an eighty in landscaping.

“Before, I hated everything about outdoor work,” said Lok, a Greenfield resident who grew up near Hartford, Connecticut. “I didn’t do any work in the yard.”

When Lok bought his Wells Street home in 2004, the exterior had asphalt shingles. “It was solid,” Lok said, “but ugly.” After 16 years, we had the exterior renovated, including a new roof, new siding and a new porch. They also had stone steps installed by family friend Curtis Gray.

“Curtis is a fabulous stonecutter,” Lok said. “He said that in this area most people see flat stones and assume they are from Goshen. But there are four quarries in the area, and for our steps he used materials from Ashfield Stone and Sugarledge Stone.

Lok and his longtime partner, Theodore “Ted” Boyer discovered that as a result of work on the exterior of their home, changes began to occur just beyond their backyard, which adjoins the rail line connecting Chapman and Wells streets.

“The railroad company started cutting down trees, so I also cleared brush along our property,” Lok said. “That, along with the lockdown, got me started.”

After clearing, Lok decided to work on the front yard as well. “I discovered that I loved researching plants,” she said. “I’m super organized, so when I put plants, I label them so I don’t forget what they are.” Lok has created a scene straight out of a botanical garden and handles the painting with a steady hand.

“The previous owner had perennials,” Lok said, “all aggressive spreaders. Its not my style. I wanted low maintenance, with little weeding or watering. When I researched rock gardens, it became a passion.

Lok enjoys cooking, painting and many other art forms. She ran a bookbinding business for 15 years, but eventually grew tired of the tedious management of running a business from home. She now works as a practice coordinator for Northampton Area Pediatrics. “At the start of Covid there was a lull when we weren’t in the office,” she said, “so I had more time at home for about six months.”

She found that caring for low-maintenance plants gave her great focus. “Some parts are hard work,” Lok said, “but I was shocked that the gardening was actually fun. I really get into the zen moments.

Lok found a wealth of information on the internet. “I looked for drought-resistant plants that didn’t spread. I googled rockeries and was inspired by what I found. She also started noticing different styles as she walked past local gardens.

“I do a lot of research, but gardening doesn’t have to be rigid,” she said. “You can fly it and you can still move plants.”

Lok’s rockery includes many plants known as “hens and chicks”. She orders specialty varieties from Mountain Crest Gardens in California and has obtained plants with nicknames like jade rose, sunset, killer, chick charms, gold nugget and key lime kiss.

Another favorite is the pasque flower, or pulsatilla, producing beautiful white flowers. Lok’s garden includes reticulated irises, catmint (Nepeta subsessilis) called purple prelude, and red umbra coneflower or echinacea.

Labels make visualization even more fun; observers may know that the small yellow flowers belong to sedum and a beautiful two-tone pink columbine is known as kirigami. The tags also predict upcoming flowers like Black-Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia), Balloon Flower (Platycodon grandiflorus), and Lavender (Lavandula).

Low to the ground are a hybrid spring phlox known as Rocky Road Magenta and a creeping phlox called Eye Shadow. Thyme has purple flowers, and although the crocuses are past, the tag shows where they will bloom next year.

The dianthus tag designates where the red or pink flowers will appear, as well as the marine economy (Lok’s is known as “Victor Reiter”). Ornamental grasses can look about the same to the untrained eye; the label for blue fescue helps.

“I aim for different heights,” Lok said. “I’m about to put in a dwarf mugo pine, which is good for rock gardens.”

Greenfield has “a lot of clay soil, quite compact,” according to Lok, “but I didn’t do any soil amendments. I look for plants that tolerate poor soils. She also looks for those that require little or no watering, except the first week after planting. She learned that “some plants don’t like to have their feet wet, not even a little bit”.

Lok likes that rock gardens require less weeding than traditional gardens. “When I’m weeding, I pull big stuff by hand, but for small stuff, I use my favorite tool: the flame weeder.”

Fueled by propane, the tool allows Lok to burn tiny weeds. “In a rockery, there is really nothing that can catch fire. The flame weeder is also ideal for cracks in sidewalks and asphalt.

Lok’s partner introduced him to the flame weeder. “Ted suggested it, and now I can’t stop,” Lok said. Boyer was familiar with the tool because of his longtime ties to agriculture. Some farmers use flame weeders before planting to warm the soil and kill weed seeds.

“Ted also introduced me to gardening. He has spent most of his life working outdoors. He grew up in Whately and worked for Nourse Farms for 14 years,” Lok said. “Now he’s starting his own nursery, Mallory Brook Trees, in Northfield.” Additionally, Boyer works in property management.

Having earned a degree in topsoil science from UMass, Boyer is fascinated by horticulture. “He has no interest in flowers,” Lok said, “but if I want to discuss soil types or fertilizers, he’s right there.”

Boyer is raising Christmas trees in response to what has become a shortage. He makes them from seeds, which is not easy. He also does rototiculture for hire, a fact announced by a sign planted in the rockery of Lok.

“Ted was totally surprised when I got into the plants,” Lok said, “but he loves that I’m now ready to take care of our garden.”

Lok and Boyer also grow food. “I usually focus on ornamentals, but I also grow tomatoes,” Lok said. “Ted put in a bed of asparagus, and we have blueberries and rhubarb.”

In addition to gardening, Boyer introduced Lok to boating and fishing. “We appreciate it, but we’ve been too busy to do much lately. Ted has so many interests; he’s even dabbled in boat building!

Lok, too, has more interests than hours in a day. “I prepare my planters,” she says. “Last year I planted datura and I want to do it again this year.”

That means neighbors can expect showy white flowers as they pass the tidy Wells Street home with a rock garden full of plant tags out front.

Eveline MacDougall, the author of “Fiery Hope”, is an avid gardener, artist, musician and mom. Readers can contact her at eveline@amandlachorus.org.

Comments are closed.